Archive for music

كل يوم كربلا

Posted in Music, Religion, World politics with tags , , , , , on December 7, 2011 by shirhashirim

Today Shiites all over the world commemorate the death of the grandson of Muhammad, Hussain, at the battle of Kerbala in 680 CE. Hussain, being a direct descendant of Muhammad had a fair claim on the caliphate which in 680 had just been assumed by Yazid, the son of Mu’awiya, who in 661 CE had usurped the function following the death of Hussain’s father, and caliph, Ali. Hussain went to Kufa to claim his rights and was caught at Kerbala, where he and his followers were massacred by an army that far outnumbered them.

In Shiism the commemoration of this battle has acquired a far wider meaning than just this historical incident. Hussain for Shiites is the epitome of everything that is good and just, while Yazid… Well, you may have guessed. The conflict between the powerless and the powerful, the oppressed against the oppressor. It all comes together at Ashura.

One day in Esfahan during Ashura, I read a phrase on the back window of a car, the title of this post. It means ‘every day is Kerbala’. According to Shiite Muslims Ashura is there to remind us of that sad fact. Those who are not Shiites need only to open their newspapers and read.

Kerbala is commemorated with passion plays in the streets, with music, public mourning and self-chastisement. In some parts of the world this even turns into self-mutilation, but not where I was. I’ve been told the latter is forbidden in Iran.

Flagellants in the main square of Esfahan (Iran) celebrating Ashura in 2010.

Beating oneself, in Iran with a bundle of chains of varying thicknesses, however is an integral part of the commemorations. It is done in groups in procession on the beat of a drum. It has a little choreography to it, that differs from group to group. Everyone wears black shirts and you can see small particles of iron shimmering on the backs of the men (no women beat themselves with chains). I’ve tried it myself. It does not hurt as much as you might think, it’s just a heavy thump on your back. But I’ve never tried doing it during half a day, as these men do.

It’s the beating with chains that impresses people the most, but once you’ve been at Ashura, you realise it’s just a detail. It’s the general atmosphere of mourning that is most impressive.

De profundis

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on July 12, 2011 by shirhashirim

Again one of my favorite pieces by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine;
Domine, exaudi vocem meam.
Fiant aures tuae intendentes
in vocem deprecationis meae.
Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine,
Domine, quis sustinebit?
Quia apud te propitiatio est propter legem tuam sustinui te Domine,
ut timeamus te.
Sustinui te, Domine,
sustinuit anima mea in verbo eius;
speravit anima mea in Domino
A custodia matutina usque ad noctem speret Israel in Domino,
quia apud Dominum misericordia,
et copiosa apud eum redemptio.
Et ipse redimet Israel
ex omnibus iniquitatibus eius.


Posted in Society with tags on July 5, 2011 by shirhashirim

Given YouTube, I can post quite a lot of my favorite music. This one is by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. It’s the Magnificat, a song attributed to Mary the mother of Jesus in Lk 1: 46-55 and a popular text for quite some composers.

It’s actually a psalm, an a bit of a revolutionary one at that:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
For he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.

For behold, from this day all generations will call me blessed;
For the mighty one has done great things to me, and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts;
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the holy;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.
He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his seed forever.

Denn alles Fleisch…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 19, 2011 by shirhashirim

This is one of my favorite pieces, even though it’s from the romantic period, which usually doesn’t really interest me.

The text is from 1Peter 1:24:

For all flesh [is] as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away.

Which itself is a loose quote from Isa 40:6-8:

The voice said, “Cry out!” And he said, “What shall I cry?” “All flesh [is] grass, And all its loveliness [is] like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people [are] grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.”

1Peter is quoting from the Septuagint, which has a slightly differing text of Isaias:

The voice of one saying, “Cry!” and I said, “What shall I cry?” “All flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass: The grass withers, and the flower fades (…) but the word of our God abides for ever.”

Despite the rather gloomy text, Brahms’ music is actually joyful. This is what he intended. He did not want to compose a requiem according to the standard liturgy, so he made his own personal choice of texts from the bible.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags on January 14, 2011 by shirhashirim

Deploration sur le mort d’Ockeghem, from the year 1497. A moving early polyphony piece by Josquin des Pres upon the demise of his teacher Johannes Ockeghem

Nimphes des bois, deesses des fontaines
Chantres expers de toutes nations
Changés vos voix tant cleres et haultaines
En cris tranchans et lamentations
Car Atropos tres terrible satrape
Vostr’ Ockeghem a trappé en sa trappe
Vray tresorier de musique et chef d’oeuvre
Doct, elegant de corps et point trappé
Dont grant domaige est que la terre coeuvre.
Accoutrés vous d’habits de doeul,
Josquin, Brumel, Pierchon, Compere,
Et plourez grosses larmes d’oeil
Perdu avez vostre bon pere,
Requiescat in pace. Amen.

The text is a poem by Jean Molinet.

Bloody murder

Posted in Girlfriend, relationships with tags , , on January 5, 2011 by shirhashirim

I’m not much into pop music, but one song I’ve always liked is Billy Joel’s ‘Always a Woman’, because the text is so, well, mean.

It’s written, preformed and sung like a love song, but when you close read the text, it’s nothing short of bloody murder. Who was it that said ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold’?

She can kill with a smile
She can wound with her eyes
She can ruin your faith with her casual lies
And she only reveals what she wants you to see
She hides like a child,
But she’s always a woman to me

She can lead you to love
She can take you or leave you
She can ask for the truth
But she’ll never believe you
And she’ll take what you give her, as long as it’s free
Yeah, she steals like a thief
But she’s always a woman to me

Oh–she takes care of herself
She can wait if she wants
She’s ahead of her time
Oh–and she never gives out
And she never gives in
She just changes her mind

And she’ll promise you more
Than the Garden of Eden
Then she’ll carelessly cut you
And laugh while you’re bleedin’
But she’ll bring out the best
And the worst you can be
Blame it all on yourself
Cause she’s always a woman to me


Oh–she takes care of herself
She can wait if she wants
She’s ahead of her time
Oh–and she never gives out
And she never gives in
She just changes her mind

She is frequently kind
And she’s suddenly cruel
She can do as she pleases
She’s nobody’s fool
And she can’t be convicted
She’s earned her degree
And the most she will do
Is throw shadows at you
But she’s always a woman to me

(it was a French novelist: Eugène Sue)


Posted in Music with tags , , on December 13, 2010 by shirhashirim

Back in the old days my dad was the organist of a church. The church choir was quite good, damn good actually. At high feasts they sang César Franck‘s Psalm 150 and I always wanted to sing along with it, even though I did not now the words to it. I did not even know it was French.

Recently I heard a choir sing it and again I felt the urge to join in, still not knowing the words or even the language…

Louez le Dieu, caché dans ses saints tabernacles,
Louez le Dieu qui règne en son immensité.
Louez-le dans sa force et ses puissants miracles.
Louez-le dans sa gloire et dans sa majesté.
Louez-le par la voix des bruyantes trompettes.
Que pour lui le nébel se marie au kinnor.
Louez-le dans vos fêtes au son du tambourin, sur lorgue et sur le luth, chantez, chantez encor.